Dead DIY Space: The Beach House

It’s a crisp night on the tail end of a prolongued summer, and the leaves on the trees are making one last ditch effort to stay relevant and fashionable by taking on the hues of pumpkins and other decorative gourds.

Hungry eyes flit and flicker about as the gamemaster clears a bong and exhales an Impressionist landscape of clouds, announcing what we already knew, “The game is SPIN! THE! BOTTLE!” A spent bottle of Andre Spumante is placed sideways at the center of the circle.

Behind us a bald man with a wispy goat beard, baggy eyelids and a lineless, smiling Gerber Baby face is plucking out the melody to “Bohemian Rhapsody” on a banjo.

Defying Newton and his laws of motion, the bottle spins a near infinite amount of times, even hopping, skipping and chipping on the uneven backyard gravel before making its choice.

A bonfire surges behind the banjo player (he could be any age between 17 and 70, he’ll likely look the same for that entire span, and I can only guess he’s on the younger end of the spectrum because of his tolerance for shit beer and his ebullient roommates), and the flames illuminate a stack of Frankenstein bicycles leaning against the wooden fence: choppers, tallbikes, trikes, and small-talls.

The bottle lands, decisively indecisively between two more babyfaces, a vegan straightedge boy and a trans boy goth, maybe not actually a rivethead but rocking the look in his studded coller and long, black Keanu-in-the-Matrix overcoat.

“BO’FUM!” the entire circle shouts excitedly.

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Dead DIY Space: The Adelphi Theater and the Magic of Chicago Radio

We were huddled around an ancient, double-headed cd-player in the dark projection booth above a grand, sprawling art deco movie theater, cavernous and full of velet, and terra cotta. Around us were gelled stage lights with wires hanging loose and old projectors from every era; scattered about were countless cd-r’s and PBR’s. A tiny, tinny boombox tuned to our frequency way left on the dial served as a monitor. If someone made a golden age hip hop remake of The Brave Little Toaster, this boombox would be the scrappy protagonist discarded and confined to the scrapheap. It let us know we were broadcasting though. A grimy cover of a Green Day song sung in German was fading out.

“I’m Eric lab Rat here with Ruby Aftermath and this is the Black Power White Power Power Hour on Red Line Radio, you just heard Weisse Wolfe and this is the Last Poets with “The White Man’s Got a God Complex”.

It was a dumb joke, obnoxious by intent, mixing music about oppression with music about liberation as if they were at all equal. I probably wouldn’t make it now that I’m a humorless PC punk, but I was more of a provocative asshole back then.

Besides, I was 21, falling in love but too immature to say it, living out my “Pump Up the Volume” dreams, and probably drunk. Besides, I didn’t know enough about nazi bands to stretch it even a half hour. Our station boasted a broadcast range “from Evanston to Uptown” … maybe… if the weather conditions were right. Even if the little tinny boombox in the projection booth was the only one tuned to our show, we were radio pirates.


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Dead DIY Space: 21st & Kedzie


Some spaces end with a bang, in a blowout, in a trial, with a splash of blood, with a burn-it-down-and-salt-the-earth mentality; others end in a whimper, in a compromise, in an unrenewed lease, in a flurry of cheap spackle and eggshell white paint, in an uphill battle to collect a security deposit, in a passing of the torch, in friendships divided amicably by new experiences and friendships divided angrily over unpaid bills and stolen food. And then some end The Chicago Way, which is a term I just invented for this.

You ever watch a movie about organized crime, it could be prohibition era mobs, crack era gangs, whatever, where some proud, fat cop on the take (you’re already imagining a mustache, right? Of course he has a mustache) strides into some den of iniquity with his chest puffed to remind the top dog in charge, “You’re only here because we allow you to be here” ?

That’s The Chicago Way. It could be the Jersey way or the Vegas way or the Baltimore way, but I invented it so I got dibs. Our mobsters were the best mobsters. Fuck The Wire and fuck Martin Scorsese.

It is sooner than later that any DIY space will start dealing with their local beat cop.

On a stoop in front of the Palzie House in Logan Square, a friend sits with a steaming pot of coffee, which I ask about. “Around this time every show our neighbor over there is going to put in a noise complaint no matter what we’re doing so I like to have this ready to offer the officers.”

Another time, at a flop house in Andersonville unimaginatively named The Place, the cop who regularly shuts down my parties is doing his thing, and stops to let me know, “The alderman knows about this place and what you’re doing here, and you’ve better be on your fucking toes.”

Like all real estate, the most important factor of DIY real estate is that of the Three L’s (“Location. Location. Location.” if I’m being too obtuse). It’s all common sense. You don’t want people to die, you don’t want to be so far in the boonies that no one shows up, but you want to be isolated enough where you won’t piss off your neighbors. You wake too many babies and you’ll be surprised on who turns snitch on you.

The three-story warehouse at the corner of 21st and Kedzie once housed Weiser & Sons, a manufacturer of player pianos right up until the Great Depression wiped out most of the industry, and was apparently the ideal place for a DIY venue as it would go on to host several. Whether the floor was supporting an active half pipe at a hardcore show or a summer festival so crowded it felt more like you were breathing evaporated sweat vapor than air, whether the beams were supporting sexy cenobites raised up by flesh hooks at a gothic rave or anarchist acrobats performing aerials at a black bloc burlesque, the building never wobbled, never wavered. It had “good bones” and, nestled between Little Village and North Lawndale on the southwest side, a block away from the Pink Line, the Cermak bus, and some really choice late night taquerias, the geography was perfect.

Lawndale and Little Village are perfectly lovely working class neighborhoods, but like a lot of neighborhoods in Chicago, they have real issues with crime, and particularly violent crime. Cabs are more likely to hang up on you than pick you up there, and the police tend to operate under a no blood, no foul rule. If they have to respond to something, they come down hard, but they aren’t going to pay a lot of mind to a bunch of anarchist hippies, babyfaced art school kids, alien drag goddesses, blissed out ravers with dilated pupils, or noise weirdos wearing children’s Halloween costumes on a random weekday in April (all of which I’ve seen there at different points). The building’s nearest neighbor is an an imposing looking private motorcycle club with blacked out windows, so there was no one who cared too much about noise.

The rules are different at 21st and Kedzie, because the rules are different in every neighborhood, because Chicago.

An example: The worst fiasco I ever saw happen at a show had nothing to do with the venue or the crowd, just a string of shitty circumstances and one dude’s awful luck. The event was Art War, a multidisciplinary art show whose goal was to fill Treasure Town’s 7000 sq feet with over 100 artists. Performance artists stripped down and spat blood, dancers twirled around each other with handfuls of yarn until they’d become a living cats’ cradle. Hula hoopers and bands and fire spinners and graffiti artists all did their thing. Towards the end of the night, when the crowd had dwindled a bit, a young man ran up the stairs into the space followed by four police officers, in bulky bulletproof vests but otherwise undercover. I don’t know what the guy was expecting to see when he got upstairs but I imagine the scene must’ve been fairly surreal for him, as it soon was for all of us. Before he could talk to anyone the cops had caught up to him, zapped him with a taser that knocked him to the ground shaking, put him in zip cuffs and read him his rights. Soon more police arrived as back up, uniformed this time. They talked to a couple residents and curators, and everyone else kept their distance, and quietly packed up their things. A venue in Rogers Park or Avondale or Bridgeport wouldn’t have survived this but this was the southwest side and this was not even close to shutting down operations.

The Weiser & Sons building had hosted the aforementioned Treasure Town, as well as the co-op space Weiser House, as well as a rave space also named Weiser House, the punk space Fort Kakalak, and the punk (but more garage and psychedelic-y punk) space Casa Donde. They didn’t get shut down for noise violations.

The building had hosted the performance art/anti-art festival Garbage World and the music/anti-music festival Bitchpork, where Lightning Bolt hinted they’d be playing a secret set (as Turd Thrower) during their set at the actual Pitchfork Music Fest and enough people to fill a smaller venue would migrate to flee the claustrophobic heat. They didn’t get shut down for capacity issues or ticket sales.

The building had hosted Mortville, which would transform itself into large interactive installations like an indoor Summertime scene made of wood and cardboard and papier-mâché, replete with a to-scale ice cream truck selling PBR, a heat-lamp beach vignette, and a playground with a giant teeter-totter and jungle gym, and then threw noise bands in the middle of it. They didn’t get shut down for liquor sales or operating without a public place of amusement license.

There wasn’t a bang, or a tragedy, but the spaces didn’t whimper and age out a natural death either. They were shut down.

Leading up to the 2012 NATO Summit, there was a sweep. Our city is famous for riots, police misconduct, segregation, income disparity. In other words, there’s always a fuse ready to be lit, and any protest can get out of hand. Let the police do what they want and you’ve got the 1968 Democratic Convention: a police riot, “the whole world is watching”, and 30 years before a major political convention spends money in Chicago. Reign the police in a little and you’ve got the 2003 Iraq War protest: it’s hardly a blip on the news, but you still have to pay out 11 million in police misconduct and wrongful arrest settlements to hippies. So the feds, working with the local police, working with new mayor Rahm Emanuel, went after potential agitators in part by limiting where they could stay. [Google “The NATO 5” if you want to see an actual factual, not-paranoid punk case of local cops going deep cover as agents provacateur]. In one weekend, Chicago’s most active DIY spaces were gone, including the three then operating at 21st and Kedzie. A friend who was living at a still-active co-op house on the West Side said his landlord was contacted, but defended the residents instead of evicting them, saying, “Ah, they’re a good bunch of kids. I’ll make sure they keep it down.”

So while several laws are broken, none of the rules were. It’s hell on semantics but laws aren’t the same thing as rules in Chicago. Laws only matter when they need to, but the rules, as negotiated, always matter. Imagine a fat, proud cop with a puffed out chest striding in to your home–maybe he’s chomping a cigar, definitely he’s got a mustache– he tells you, “Look I know you didn’t break the rules before, but the rules had to change, and we changed ’em.”

That’s what happened. The house always wins. I’m mixing my metaphors and I don’t even care. That’s The Chicago Way.

Epilogue: Remember that guy who got tasered at Treasure town? There’s more. What I learned later on is that he’d been mugged earlier in the evening and someone had called it in. He matched the description of his own muggers, and when the undercover cops saw him running home, gave chase. Not realizing they were cops and afraid he was about to get jumped again, he ran harder, ducking into the factory when he saw light, an open door, some kind of party. He thought he’d be safe in a crowd but only ended up with an audience watching him receive the punishment meant for the people who’d attacked him earlier. Just a weird case of mistaken identity, like a twisted, sadistic version of an I Love Lucy plot. Just a horrible, fucked up day for him and I hope he was able to sue the city, or has won the Lotto, or just karmically come up since.

Post-script: I have no idea what was happening in that warehouse between the 1930’s and 2008 but older party people have told me they think they’ve been to “tons of shit back in the day” but have fuzzy recollections because of “drugs”. Don’t do too many drugs if you want to be an archivist and don’t try to archive the world of parties if you don’t have patience. Chicago’s underground has been flourishing since that low point in 2012 before the peaceful and lame (and lamely peaceful) NATO summit, with several new venues formed by former residents of the Weiser & Sons warehouse, but these things run on a cycle, so enjoy the good times while you can before the hammer comes down again. We just lost a good one in Young Camelot. ALSO, you can now lease a space in the Weiser & Sons warehouse for $13,000 to 25,000 a month. I don’t know regular realty like I do diy realty but that seems like a (really big) (fucking) ripoff.

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Dead DIY Space: Elastic Revolution


A sinewy, grey haired man is sitting on the floor of an old church in Logan Square surrounded by a ring of weird electronics wired together, like a circle of protection cast in a cyberpunk movie about witchcraft. [This movie does not exist but it obviously should]. The boxes are effects pedals wired to effects pedals wired to nothing else. He’s literally playing freak electronic impulses and looping them into an aggressive industrial freakout, pressing buttons and twiddling knobs with a gleeful, maniac look across his face. The man is Dave Purdie, a member of Verbal Abuse, one the first punk bands to form in Chicago, an intense, increasingly avant-garde no-wave act profiled in the documentary You Weren’t There. Other members would go on to found Naked Raygun and Big Black; another will die in a motorcycle chase with the cops. Dave Purdie will become Satan 2000. I’ll get back to him and his surroundings in a minute, but I’d like to wax theoretical for a few.

I used to get mad at the label “Scene” (with a capital S) because it felt so self-aggrandizing, even when used in derision, as though one group could define youth culture. There is no homogenous art or music or DIY scene in Chicago; maybe there is in Terra Haute or Peoria or wherever but probably not there either. Punk and rap and dance music and art fracture into a million subgenres defined by fashion, politics and BPM’s, creating a multiverse of scenes that parallel, intersect, mirror and overlap, loosely connected by people and places. Sometimes it seems as if the places didn’t need to be created by the people inside, but existed only to be filled by art. Buddy becomes Happy Dog becomes No Nation in Wicker Park. The Azone becomes peopleprojects becomes Papal Projects in Logan Square. Weiser House becomes Fort Kakalak and Treasure Town and Mortville in Lawndale.

If you want to get mystical about it (and boy howdy do I always) you can point to the plethora of places where art has been created across the entirety of Milwaukee Avenue. Before the dirt road was paved over with wood and then brick and then asphalt, before Jean Baptiste Point DuSable founded the city in the 1780’s, and centuries before Robert de la Salle transliterated the Miami-Illinois (Algonquin) word “shikaakwa” into “Chicagou” in the 1670’s, what is now known as Milwaukee Avenue had been a route of travel for half a dozen societies of Indigenous Americans for generations before. The word Milwaukee translates from Potawamie and Ojibwe Algonquin to “the Good Land”, but we already know that because Alice Cooper says so in Wayne’s World , and Wayne’s World is a rad fucking Chicago rock’n’roll movie.

I’m not trying to invoke the mystical exoticism some people like to place around indigenous cultures but I would like to talk about Ley Lines, the concept that the natural pathways that pre-industrial societies developed around, that were livable, farmable, and walkable, were preordained, formed almost intentionally by the cosmos, a cooperation of the stars, waterways and tectonic plates to guide humans towards places where they could thrive. The land is imbued with the elements of creation, and just as certain land works better for farmers, artists and thinkers are drawn to the places where they thrive as well.

If you don’t want to get mystical, if you want to be completely practical, the city of Chicago was built around the established paths because they existed. It was easier and made more sense. Milwaukee Avenue was developed in a way where working class people could easily get back and forth from their homes on the outskirts to the factories clustered around the center. Chain-migration would mean tight knit immigrant communities would settle, assimilate and disperse, leaving new room for new tight knit immigrant communities, and a revolving door of artists could take advantage of newly emptied homes at working class prices. De-industrialization would empty the factories for underground galleries and practice spaces and communes.There is no mysticism, musicians need environments where they can make noise unencumbered and be heard, artists need room to fabricate and be seen, and thinkers need space that they can afford, because ‘thinker’ isn’t a fucking job. Like finds like. Communities form. Art gets commodified. People move in and the live/work/play spaces become condos and artisinal doughnut shops.

So it’s real world, non-theoretical 2005. A few blocks away from Milwaukee Avenue, I’m in a shuttered Pentecostal church watching Satan 2000 exorcise noise from the air like an aggro Jon Cage surrounded by people eating mushrooms and drinking out of paper bags. Mystically, the church was built to focus and refine people’s concentrated energy into a joyful noise. Practically, it’s a big acoustically-sound building in a pretty cheap part of an up-and-coming neighborhood with its own garage parking space.

The place is Elastic Revolution, but it’s alternately known as 3030, 3030 Revolution, and Elastic Arts. It’s not a rowdy or aggressive space; its primary focus is jazz, and the traditional, uncomfortable, long wooden pews make the space untenable for dancing, no matter how aggressive the music gets when jazz gives way to experimental noise, or how bouncy the music gets when there’s a funky drummer at the helm. Marvin Tate does a series of poetry readings, the Cucaracha Cabaret hosts a monthly puppetry series, there’s an electronic music night and an improvised music night; if you’re a fan of local jazz stalwart Ken Vandermark but you’re not a fan of jazz clubs, you can see a whole fuckova lot of Ken Vandermark in duos and trios and quartets.

Elastic Revolution wasn’t felled by a show that got out of hand, an outraged community, or a tragic accident. It was taken down by a single neighbor who didn’t like the flow of people entering, exiting, and going outside to smoke. After calling the cops out on numerous noise complaints, often resulting in no action, the CPD eventually sent two undercover cops to a show. They determined that the place money taken at the door did not qualify as a donation and that the venue was not eligible for the PPA loophole (that a place can hold events with live sound/performance without a Public Place of Amusement license if they follow a bunch of good neighbor/not-acting-as-a-taxable-business rules) because of zoning reasons, but they didn’t show up in court and, though the Elastic Arts Foundation couldn’t operate the church as a performance space anymore, I don’t think they weren’t punished further.

There’s a happy ending to this one. The Elastic Arts crew became a legit nonprofit, and Alderman Rey Colon helped them find a legit space in the neighborhood, first above the Friendship Chinese restaurant on Milwaukee, and then in a nondescript office complex just west of Kedzie on Diversey, where they’re still operating, and kicking ass today.

DISCLAIMER: DIY Dead spaces is done with little-to-no research, unless I take Adderall and spend a whole day reading about the history of Chicago street paving, but everything else is true as remembered and experienced. Memory is fallible and experiences vary. Names and dates may be completely off. People who I remember fondly may have been total monsters. People who were dickheads to me might have been perfect angels having a very, bad day when we met.

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Dead DIY Spaces: Needlehouse


10 yrs back this idyllic little Bridgeport apartment building was home to Needle House. The story is that back in the day it was a cop bar and, after that, it was a shooting gallery, earning its name from the stacks of needles the punks who took it over had to sweep up to settle in.

The entirety of the first floor was taken over by a half pipe and the basement was home to sweaty, smelly hardcore shows. The walls were completely covered by spraypainted stencil art by Joe Suta, who played in the house band Raise the Red Lantern, made art under the name Choke, and was the only dude I knew who lived there. About a decade before Sick Fisher was the king of painting murals on the doorways and awnings of hip businesses, Joe was doing the same thing. You can still, I think for now, see some of his work on the now-also-dead Uncle Fun on Belmont and in Threadless warehouse.

This was one of those reliable spots where, like buddY gallery, if you didn’t know of anything specific to do on on a Friday or Saturday night, you could just show up and expect cool punk rock shit and I would frequently trek across town from the Northside to hear bands sight unseen. The spot hosted a lot of shows with Southkore bands like Reaccion and Tras de Nada, touring acts like Iron Lung, and was the first place where I saw that weird whiteboy hardcore dancing where everybody does windmill kicks and calisthenics while facing the same direction and not touching each other. I don’t know where those bands came from but this was the only place I ever saw it in Chicago.

Bridgeport is a weird place, one of the only neighborhoods I know that became more diverse with gentrification. Traditionally, it was home to many of Chicago’s most famous mafia and political families, a place you weren’t supposed to go at night if you weren’t white, where 13-year old Lenard Clark was pulled off his bike and beaten to death in 1997 with one of the witnesses murdered and another disappeared before the trial, a place where I’ve been threatened for being gay (nope), Mexican (nope), AND white (kinda but kinda not, and also a long story) and god help me if any of those angry Catholics knew I was darkish and flamboyantish because I’m Jewish. It’s now the neighborhood that’s neck and neck with my ancestral home of Rogers Park as the most diverse I’m Chicago (I know this is due to some very site specific neighborhood factors that opened up new residential spaces, allowing for Mexican and Chinese American families to expand out of Bridgeport and Pilsen without displacing longtime residents and blah blah blah snore it’s still weird. When I used to show up on a Friday night, the place would be overflowing with grimy scumheads toting forties (and of course I was a grimy scumbag toting a forty too); when I drove by this afternoon, a cute Asian American couple in matching outfits were leaving for a jog.

DIY neighborhood notes: Simultaneous to Needle House, a different group of kids upstairs would sometimes host noise bands and art shows. I know I saw a side project with members of Coughs there but the name of the space completely eludes me. A couple years later, I would see the other Chicago Lab Rat, to be precise at one of at least two other Chicago Lab Rat’s play thrash ska along the lines of  Leftöver Crack in a condemned building some kids squatted in until it was demolished kitty corner on Halsted. After that the kids behind the burner rave zine Brilliantly Mad took over a storefront called the Emerald Palace and threw the type of magickal dance parties that ended in yoga. I don’t think they still throw parties there but they maintain a community garden in the backyard.

DISCLAIMER: I did little-to-no research, but everything is true as remembered and experienced. Memory is fallible and experiences vary. Names and dates may be completely off. People who I remember fondly may have been total monsters. People who were dickheads to me might have been perfect angels having a bad day.

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